Scope and arrangement
Col. Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright III, who donated the bulk of the letters of his grandfather Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright in 1941, wrote of the collection, "There can be no more satisfactory or authentic record of manners, customs and family life of by gone days than is revealed in the intimate family correspondence of those who here trod life's stage. Particularly is this true of those who by stature, environment and education are competent witnesses." The Wainwright family papers reflect the lives and concerns of a family for whom the early American Republic was an inheritance. The papers show the peculiar evolution of family history during America's adolescence in which the grandson of a minister known for powerful pre-Revolutionary sermons against the establishment of bishops became one of the noted bishops of the Diocese of New York of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the antebellum era.
The Wainwright family letters document Elizabeth (Mayhew) Wainwright's family life, from her time in Liverpool, through her return to America in 1803, to her death in 1829. The collection includes letters she received from her half-brother, John C. Howard, the son of Elizabeth Clarke Mayhew and Simeon Howard. John C. Howard was member of American Temperance Society, a proprietor of the Boston Athenaeum and original member of the Boston Medical Association. He delivered the public discourse at the 1804 meeting of the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Peter Wainwright continued to travel between England and America in the early nineteenth century. The papers provide evidence of tensions in the Atlantic world at the close of the eighteenth century and in the first decades of the nineteenth.
The largest numbers of letters are those of Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright to his family. The files also contain letters from his wife, Amelia, to her family. In a letter composed in 1814, the future bishop of the Episcopal church warns his brother what to do in case he is drafted. "By all means I would recommend to you to call yourself an American and to act as one and it is your duty as you are naturalized and have the protection of the country." The correspondence offers a glimpse into the character of a man of erudition, and self-awareness. In a letter of March 29 1808, he penned, "Dear mother- Since I wrote my last letter, old Titus has died. I believe he has done his duty in the world. He sprang from nothing, and died possessed of fifteen hundred dollars, from which (by his will) there is to be a clock put on the meeting-house steeple, a monument to be erected over his tomb, and the remainder to be given to the parish. We see that worth is not confined to color. Titus was once a slave."
The collection also documents the rise of early American arts and letters. Wainwright's interest in the promotion of education and music is evidenced in a letter to Daniel Wadsworth of December, 1825 in which he invites the patron of the fine arts to join him for a performance of Italian Opera at the Philharmonic Society intended to be the best ever given on this side of the Atlantic by an Italian troupe. A trustee of the General Theological Seminary, Wainwright was committed to the promotion education for all Americans. The origins of New York University are seen in a letter of March 4th 1830, to his brother Peter, "I have indeed been very much occupied and among other things with this proposed University in our city. Perhaps you have seen or heard something about, all the public documents I have written, I send them to you a pamphlet and communications…From my having written these documents and being otherwise active it has been supposed that I was connected with the University as President - but I have no such intention, nor would I in my present mind on any account leave my Parish for any literary institution. I have been acting solely for what I thought the city requires."
Letters to and from wives, sisters, and daughters of the Wainwright circle offer insight into women's lives including the later years of Elizabeth (Mayhew) Wainwright and her daughter Elizabeth. In addition to letters between mother and daughter, are letters to and from sister-in-laws, Charlotte Lambert and Amelia Phelps. A large portion of the Elizabeth (Mayhew) Wainwright's correspondence is addressed to Mrs. Hartwell of Holyhead, England, a confidant and godmother to the Wainwright children. An interesting letter may be found in the correspondence to Elizabeth Wainwright, composed by the wife of John C. Howard while the Howards were living in Havana. Describing daily life in a letter written in February of 1810, Mrs. Howard complains "The conversation in most companies consists of the going price of slaves, such a day a fine cargo of negroes arrived from the coast of Guinea, have you been to see them, they are fine looking fellons [sic], what will they sell for, this is the conversation with which I am frequently entertained."
The collection also includes financial records of the Treasurer of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Boston, and of the Wainwright and Howard families.
The Wainwright family papers are arranged in seven series:
Includes letters from Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright to his parents, brother, and sister. There are letters addressed to Daniel Wadsworth, the founder of the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT, from 1825, 1826, 1831. Incoming letters in Box 2, folders 13-14 include miscellaneous letters, 1804-1815, and letters from his son Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright II, 1829-1844.
Includes letters from friends and family in Massachusetts and Liverpool, England. Family correspondence from his wife, Charlotte, and sister-in-law Amelia Wainwright. Other correspondents include William Clark, Elizabeth Howard, and Charles L. Thayer. All outgoing letters, 1829-1852, are addressed to his brother Jonathan M. Wainwright.
Charlotte (Lambert) Wainwright's correspondence includes letters addressed to her from her cousin Charles L. Thayer, sister-in-law Amelia Wainwright, and other friends in Boston, London, and New York.
Elizabeth Wainwright's correspondence dates mostly from the period of her life before her marriage to Dr. Walter Channing. She lived in Boston, Hartford, and New York with her mother and clergyman brother. The incoming correspondence includes letters from family and friends in England and America. Correspondents include Mrs. Hartwell, the Howard family, and Amelia Wainwright. The outgoing correspondence is addressed to her brother Peter and his wife Charlotte in Boston
Peter Wainwright's correspondence includes letters received from John C. Howard, as well as his regular letters to his sons and daughters composed from Boston and Liverpool, England.
Elizabeth Wainwright's correspondence dates from the years before she left America until the last years of her life. The incoming correspondence includes letters from her half-brother, John C. Howard, and his family. The outgoing correspondence includes letters to Mrs. Hartwell of Holyhead, England, 1796-1825 and to her family 1817-1822.
- 1802-1837, n.d.